open source

When Cloud Providers Use Open Source, Who Benefits?

The open source community began with a premise that working together makes software better for everyone. When big businesses with huge teams and tons of resources join in, it isn’t that simple. There’s a lot of money to be made in refining a free product to beat your competition, but is it the ethical choice? Should major Cloud providers like Amazon or Google be able to repackage and sell open source software without compensation? And, how does this practice affect the open source ecosystem?

The whole point of open source is collaboration, and this is still generally true regardless of who’s using it. Although Amazon might use MySQL for AWS RDS or Google for its GCP CloudSQL, it usually isn’t a one-way street. The people using open source software to develop native offerings for these large organizations also may contribute to patches, security or new features back to the core of the applications.

Conversely, taking advantage of open source tools to bring services in-house can have an opportunity cost in development and competition. If AWS continues to expand its native options, it might render some third-party competitors obsolete. When you consider how a wide selection of potential add-ons affects a customer’s decision-making process (i.e. lots of options vs. choice paralysis), lack of competition might be a bug or a feature.

Allowing big companies to adapt open source software for private services could narrow the competitive field. But if it translates into better software, that might not be as bad as it sounds.